Disclaimer: the characters (other than the protagonist) and situations in this story are taken from the computer game ‘Neverwinter Nights 2’ and are the property of Atari, Obsidian Entertainment, Wizards of the Coast, and Hasbro Inc.Third Demon Singular
We left the chamber of the Erinyes devil Hezebel, who had been courteous and fair of speech despite her inherent evil, and went out into the corridor that led deeper into Ammon Jerro’s Haven. There was still no sign of Shandra, Mephasm had warned us that she was in peril, and I was beginning to get worried.
“You were a damn sight more polite to that devil bitch than I would have been, Mina,” Khelgar said.
I shrugged and smiled down at the dwarf, my strong right arm, my dearest friend. The day when I’d met him, outside the Weeping Willow Inn, I still counted as the luckiest day of my life. “I have always found that I can get more with a kind word and a sharp sword than with a sharp sword alone, Khelgar,” I told him, “and, remember, Mephasm told us we need the co-operation of at least three of the other fiends imprisoned here. There’s no sense in antagonizing her unnecessarily.”
“Aye, lassie, I suppose you’re right,” he said.
, Khelgar, that the words of the Kalach-cha carry wisdom,” Zhjaeve chimed in.
“Oh, stop it, Zee, you’ll make me blush,” I told the githzerai priestess. I twirled my greatsword, the legendary blade Shining Light of Lathander, and then rested it upon my shoulder. For a normal girl it would have been too heavy to wield effectively. I could twitch it around as easily as Neeshka could handle her short-sword and it wasn’t just because I’m almost six feet tall.
A year and a half ago, just after my friends and I had been humiliated by the Mossfeld brothers in the Harvest Brawl, I’d had a strange dream in which I’d heard a voice asking “Do you want to be strong?” When I awoke something had happened to me. I still didn’t know what, or why, but I had suddenly become stronger and faster than any man in West Harbor. Maybe it was something to do with the Shard embedded in my chest. My enhanced strength had grown even greater with time and by now I could carry a horse across my shoulders, arm-wrestle an ogre, or hold Neeshka up by the heels to shake loose her ill-gotten gains. Luckily none of them were tasks I was required to do all that often. Well, except for shaking Neeshka.
“You want me to take point again, boss?” Neeshka asked.
I nodded. There wasn’t anyone better at detecting traps than the young teifling. Yes, she’d help herself to any valuables she came across, unless watched like a hawk, but I really didn’t mind, and she’d always hand over anything of importance. “Usual routine, Neeshka,” I said. “Bishop, back her up.”
“If you say so, Blondie,” the grim-faced ranger said. He set off at Neeshka’s heels.
Khelgar glowered at Bishop’s back. He didn’t trust anyone else with Neeshka’s safety, least of all Bishop, but I knew what I was doing. I hoped. I let Neeshka and Bishop get ten yards in front and then signaled for the rest of us to move forward again.
I saw Neeshka freeze as something caught her eye, come to attention with her tail straight out and quivering like that of a pointer dog, and then advance cautiously. I tensed, believing that she’d detected a trap or an ambush, but in fact it turned out to be a treasure chest. A real find, too, for it held the magic sword Nightthief’s Claw. A short-sword designed for dual-wielding, with specific enchantments to enhance its capabilities in that role, and ideal for Neeshka. It seemed almost too good to be true, and I had Zhjaeve and Qara check the sword out, but there were no curses on the weapon. Maybe it belonged to one of Hezebel’s minions, or those of one of the other fiends, or maybe it had belonged to one of Ammon Jerro’s staff in the days before someone turned the Haven into a prison for powerful Outsiders.
Or, a thought occurred to me, maybe Mephasm had had it put there for Neeshka to find. The mysterious major devil had treated all of us with courtesy but with Neeshka there was something else in his attitude; affection, I would have said, although with devils you could never be quite sure. I was pretty sure he was a relative of hers; my money would be on great-grandfather. He’d dropped hints but, as was typical for a devil, he hadn’t said anything definite. Then again, it had taken eighteen years for my foster-father Daeghun to tell me the truth about my own parents…
I put those thoughts aside. We weren’t here to learn about Neeshka’s ancestry; we were here to find things we could use to defeat the King of Shadows. And to rescue Shandra. I gave the sword to Neeshka; she belted it at her left hip, opposite the Breath of the Maiden sword that she’d been given by the Drow warrior Cierre during the Luskan War, and then took up her scouting duties again.
It was hardly worth it. Fifty feet along the corridor was another chamber with yet another imprisoned fiend. A demon we’d met before, at the githyanki lair, and it wasn’t going to be a happy reunion. Zaxis.
“You!” the ugly hezrou demon greeted us. “Zaxis cannot guess how you got in here.”
“Oh, gods, not this idiot again,” Neeshka moaned. Even though I’d told her not to antagonize the fiends I couldn’t blame her.
“How dare you speak to Zaxis that way!” Zaxis growled. “Zaxis will smear you into a bloody paste with his hands, Zaxis will tear you apart.”
“Look,” Neeshka retorted, as the rest of us caught up, “as amusing as your whole ‘Zaxis this’ and ‘Zaxis that’ thing is, that's not the proper way you should talk to people. I mean, by the gods, are you some kind of dimwit? Referring to yourself when you speak… it’s a sign you’re really losing it.”
“You might want to listen to her, Zaxis,” I said. “She has a point.”
“Yeah, hear that?” Neeshka asked. “She didn’t use her name once when she spoke.”
“The more fool her,” Zaxis said. “Zaxis has more sense than that.”
“Huh?” Neeshka cocked her head to one side. “What do you mean?”
Zaxis didn’t answer her directly. “You just wait,” he said. “The Master will come and crush you then give your remains to Zaxis to feast upon. Were Zaxis not trapped here Zaxis would soon be tasting strips of your flesh in the bowels of the Abyss.”
“I take it you’re not willing to help us get the portals working, then?” I asked.
“Zaxis would not lift a talon to help you, Temina Farlong,” the demon replied.
that it would be in your own interests, demon,” said Zhjaeve. “You could gain your freedom.”
“Zaxis cares not,” he replied. “Zaxis hates you more than Zaxis hates the Master.”
“The bugger’s daft,” Khelgar commented. “Let’s leave him to rot here and move on.”
“He smells like he’s already rotting,” Qara said. “Are you sure I can’t set him on fire while he’s in that circle?”
“Alas, yes,” I told her. “We might as well go.” I turned back to Zaxis. “Why don’t you tell us why you always speak in the third person? It’s not like it’s a big secret, surely.”
“Zaxis is smart,” Zaxis said. “You are not. You have many names. Temina, Mina, lassie, boss, Blondie, Kalach-cha, and Farlong, and you call yourself ‘I’ when you speak. Zaxis does not make that mistake.”
“So the Character Analysis algorithm will be confused,” Zaxis replied. “Zaxis will show up many times. The laugh will be upon you when you are not seen as the heroine of your own story. You will just show as ‘Others’ or ‘No Focus’. Zaxis uses the third person so that Zaxis comes well ahead of you. This will be a Zaxis-centric story at ‘Twisting the Hellmouth’.”
I broke the fourth wall and checked. “Sorry,” I reported, “it didn’t work out that way. You came into the story too late. The surprise winner, even though he doesn’t actually appear and has no lines, is – Mephasm!”